In Mathewson versus R B Wilson Dental Laboratory Ltd (1988), a dental technician bought cannabis during his lunch break. He was arrested and charged with being in possession of the drug. A criminal court convicted and fined him.
He told his employers about the conviction and they subsequently dismissed him. He claimed that his dismissal was unfair since he had never brought drugs onto his employers' premises nor had even intended to.
He pointed out that the employers had never discussed the issue with him, or disciplined him. The employers argued that this was immaterial.
They could not employ someone who was involved in taking drugs, and they were justified in dismissing him summarily.
The industrial tribunal held that the dismissal was fair even though the employers had not taken steps to caution Mathewson about his future behaviour.
It is possible for an employer to dismiss an employee fairly even though a contract of employment does not expressly provide that a conviction for possession of drugs, or simply possessing drugs, would lead to dismissal.
Employers have a duty under section 7 of the Health and Safety at Work Act 1974 to take reasonable care of themselves and others who may be affected by their acts.
It is possible, therefore for employees in schools to be disciplined under this section and even dismissed.
Chris Lowe is honorary legal consultant to the Secondary Heads Association.